First Nations in Vancouver Twice as Likely to Become HIV Positive: Study
January 7, 2003
Aboriginal injection drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside are becoming infected with HIV at almost twice the rate of their non-aboriginal counterparts, says the co-author of a new study published today. The study warns the soaring infection rate could turn HIV/AIDS into the next big epidemic afflicting Canadian First Nations people, Patricia Spittal said Monday. The full report, "Risk Factors for Elevated HIV Incidence Among Aboriginal Injection Drug Users in Vancouver," appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (2003;168(1):19-24).Adapted from:
The study began in 1996 with 1,400 IDUs, of whom 941 were HIV-negative. By 2001, 21.1 percent of aboriginal participants became HIV-positive, compared with 12.7 percent of non-aboriginal IDUs, said Spittal, a medical anthropologist with the British Columbia Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. The study also showed that First Nations women using drugs are becoming HIV-positive at twice the rate of non-aboriginal women IDUs, she said. First Nations men become infected with HIV at double the rate of non-aboriginal men IDUs. First Nations women who go on drug injecting binges are 2.6 times more likely to become HIV-positive, compared with aboriginal men, who were 1.4 times as likely to do so, Spittal said.
Women who become hooked on drugs further increase their chances of contracting HIV because they often have unprotected sex to pay for more drugs, Spittal said.
The rates of new HIV infections among First Nations IDUs does not shock Lucy Barney, spokesperson for the aboriginal group CheeMamuk/STD-AIDS Control. The group, part of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control, travels province-wide to educate First Nations people about the risks of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. The biggest problems are lack of awareness and funding to deal with the issue, Barney said.
Federal HIV/AIDS funding has remained stagnant since 1992, and treatment programs for addiction are inadequate, said epidemiologist Dr. Martin Schechter, study co-author. "We're operating at 20 to 30 percent less than we had a decade ago and we're confronting a problem that's many times greater," Schechter said. Health Canada spokesperson Ryan Baker said Ottawa spent $5.9 million (US$3.8 million) last year on First Nations people.
01.06.03; Camille Bains